How Are You Enjoying Your Surveillance State This Morning?
So here is our first take on thisNSA/Verizon/FBI phone-records thingy...Actually it is our second or maybe third take, because there's no really good way to blog the double-axel facepalm, eyeroll, and fetal position that was our real initial reaction to the news. We eventually got up and made some coffee, and while we're still NOT HAPPY at this latest evidence that the Obama administration is every bit as happy as the Bush people were to unleash the Homeland Surveillance Apparatus in the name of security, we're also going to try really hard to only freak out as much as we need to. Which is still a pretty good freakout.
First off, a little wonksplaining about what we should even be freaking out about. Unlike the "warrantless wiretapping" that the National Security Agency undertook during the Bush Administration (go read James Bamford's The Shadow Factory), the records request we learned about this morning does not actually involve listening in to phone calls; it's "only" the FBI getting permission to hoover up (get it?) millions of records of phone calls -- tons of "metadata" involving locations, times, and durations of calls. The phone numbers are included, but not the names of the callers, which means there is no way in the world that connection could ever be made without a second court order, right? The whole fishing expedition may -- possibly -- have been authorized as part of the investigation into the Boston bombings, which would suggest that there are at least some limits on it. Or not. It's nominally legal -- you know, "court order" and Patriot Act -- and it stinks of overreach, but it isn't "wiretapping," so you sticklers for accurate terminology can also have a field day explaining why every third headline is WRONG for the next few months.
The other thing we found worth at least two cheers this morning was this Conor Friedersdorf piece at The Atlantic applauding the unknown whistle-blower who leaked the story to Glenn Greenwald and the Guardian. As Friedersdorf says, this was top secret information, and the Obama Administration's favorite hobby is going after leakers, so this was very much a risky move for the source, whoever it was. Friedersdorf speculates that the leaker may have been motivated by the highest possible motives, revealing dirty secrets like a Daniel Ellsberg:
the leaker might think that if the government is going to take part in spying on a massive scale, that ought to be something the polity debates and knows about, not the secret machinations of a segregated ruling class doing things that would shock many they're paid to represent.
For the leaker's own sake, let's hope we don't find out who spilled this story -- but let's also have a round of applause for what Friedersdorf rightly calls the actions of a hero. On a morning when it feels like a big chunk of our civil liberties fell into a lagoon full of exploding foamy pigshit, we'll take whatever silver linings we can find.
Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.